With the outbreak of war in 1914 the vital role of artillery in supporting infantry operations was well understood, although some early French attacks were not well co-ordinated. The French artillery was primarily equipped with the excellent 75mm Model 1897, a huge step forward in its day and still a good weapon in 1914. However like most people the French had assumed the war would be short, and when the fighting dragged on ammunition began to run low. In addition, once the fighting developed into trench warfare the 75 was not so useful, and initially the French had a great shortage of heavy calibre guns with which they might pound their opponent’s field fortifications. In time all these problems were resolved, but during the early months of the war French artillery, like everyone else, struggled to cope with this new form and scale of warfare.
HaT have long since produced a set of World War I French artillery that includes the famous 75 and a late war crew, so this set delivers no gun but a similar crew for the early part of the war. In 1914 French artillerymen wore a dark blue uniform in some ways similar to the infantry. On their head they had the traditional peaked kepi cap, and for active service they wore a particularly short tunic or veste buttoned all the way up the front and with a standing collar. The trousers were tucked into short gaiters, which also covered the top of the boots. By virtue of having the infantry-style gaiters we can say these men are foot artillery – horse artillery wore long boots. The last figure in the second row is obviously riding a horse, and so is wearing the long boots with spurs. He is also wearing a coat with a large cape. Everything about the uniform worn by these men is correctly depicted in this set.
Like any gunner you would expect very little in terms of kit on these men when in action, as they clearly are. Each has a haversack on his left hip, and on a strap over his left shoulder a cartridge pouch for the short rifle issued to artillery gunners. This is fine, but we would have expected a canteen too. Apart from the bayonet scabbard this is the sum total of kit carried, which is good.
We were not particularly impressed by the sculpting of the late war set, but this one is better. Clothing is quite well done, and while there is little call for fine detail, where this is required it is good. Although hard to tell on this dark plastic colour, some of the faces have very shallow definition or are quite roughly done, but that aside these are pretty well done. Also well worth observing that there is no flash at all anywhere, nor any extra plastic worthy of the name.
The poses are much like the many other artillery sets from this manufacturer, beginning with three figures handling shells, which from their size look like those for the 75, predictably (and so another improvement on the late-war set). The fourth pose is empty-handed, but is presumably part of the feeding of shells from magazine to gun too. The first figure in the second row is presumably pulling the lanyard to fire the gun, although if so then the angle is all wrong, and in any case you would expect this to be in his left hand, so we were not sure what this figure is all about. The sixth man is an NCO and so in charge of the gun. He has no kit bar a revolver, and while not a great pose he is acceptable. The seventh man is clearly seated on the limber or, much more likely, on some support vehicle, since usually no one sat on the limber to avoid overworking the team. In any case, he is not hanging on, so unlikely to be moving. Finally we have an outrider for the horse team, of which three would be needed for any gun, but there are only four of this pose in the whole box. Again he looks quite sedate, but should work well enough, although as at the time of writing the team itself has yet to be made by HaT.
This set is certainly a great improvement on the late-war set, which was made almost 10 years earlier. The poses are pretty good and there are no accuracy problems, while the sculpting is noticeably better. Also we were pleased to see it made in more of a traditional, harder plastic than the softish material often used by HaT in recent years, although doubtless different customers will have their own preferences on that. In many ways then this is a return to form for HaT, since small field guns and their crews were so important while the warfare was fluid and relatively open in the first few weeks.